Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Ten Questions with Linda Granfield and Janet Wilson

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Ten Questions with Linda Granfield and Janet Wilson

Out of Slavery: The Journey to Amazing Grace (Tundra Books), written by Linda Granfield and illustrated by Janet Wilson, is the story of slavery, a man and the world’s most beloved hymn. This bestseller was previously titled Amazing Grace: The Story of the Hymn and was selected as a Best Book (Non-fiction) by Quill & Quire.

OBT:

Tell us about your book, Out of Slavery: The Journey to Amazing Grace.

LG:

This is the story of British slave trade in the eighteenth century and John Newton, the slave trader who later became a minister, an anti-slave trade activist and the author of the famous hymn “Amazing Grace.”

JW:

From a picture perspective, the illustrations follow the life of John Newton from the time he was press-ganged into the navy in England, through his career as a slave ship captain, to his redemption and subsequent religious life when he wrote music and campaigned for the abolishment of slavery. At the same time, the illustrations depict the journey of the slaves from being abducted, sold into slavery, their treacherous middle passage, the slave auctions to the life of the future generations of slaves working in the fields on plantations. The final illustration depicts all the generations who have been profoundly moved by "Amazing Grace."

OBT:

Linda, how did you research your book?

LG:

I used primary sources such as Newton’s own Journal and period histories of British slave trading.

OBT:

Janet, what sort of research did you do for the illustrations?

JW:

Since the story is set in a time before the photograph, it was a challenge to get the historic details correct or even begin to imagine what life was like for the kidnapped and enslaved Africans. (At the time of my research I didn’t have internet capabilities.) I read journals of Newton and other slavers. One passage in particular resonated – describing the slaves being in tears as they walked by in their yokes. Linda gave me a sketch of the ship — I think it was by Newton himself — and I researched a similar style. Tall ships happened to be in Toronto harbour at that time so I arranged a photo shoot with my son Graeme on one of them. A friend visiting England kindly offered to visit John Newton’s manse and took photos from the very window in the room where the hymn was written. The models for the choir scene were friends and villagers who happily agreed to pose for pictures. Each depicted a time through the years to the present. Since then I’ve been known as the Norman Rockwell of Eden Mills.

OBT:

Describe the collaboration process between author and illustrator.

LG:

While I was working on the text research and writing drafts, Janet was compiling sources for the illustrations.

JW:

Linda is a very visual person and gives good advice at each stage.

OBT:

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received as an author or illustrator?

LG:

“Keep reading and writing.” The more one reads the vaster the knowledge of material and style. The more one writes the more refined and personal the style becomes.

JW:

“There is no such thing as a bad painting — only a work in progress.” I had the good fortune to be able to observe my mentor, James Hill, struggling through the process of creating a successful piece — it was agony! The result was always a successful work of art. Now, if I have the time, I will repaint until I’m satisfied. He also said, “No work is ever finished — only abandoned!” This is very true. Most times I am painting as the work is taken away.

OBT:

Describe your ideal work environment.

LG:

In my study, surrounded by literally hundreds of binders filled with notes I can draw upon. (Oh, I already have that!) A cup of coffee is near at hand; sometimes music from the period I’m writing about fills the air. And there’s always time to fold laundry and re-think a passage just written. Ideally — the sun is shining, I don’t ever have to dust any surface and the File Fairy comes and clears away the stacks of paper I trip over.

JW:

I think I have the ideal work environment. My studio is attached to the house — a converted garage. My office is upstairs next to our bedroom so the daily commute to both is very short. My husband looks after business and sustenance. My friends and neighbours know when to stay away and when to take me out for an airing. Most of them work at home so we usually get together on the Friday nights and pretend that we actually have a weekend even though we work through most of them. I live in a village with many other creative people and have a drawing group that meets down the street, a writing group that meets at my house and many folks who are willing to give excellent critiques and generous moral support if I ask for it. Money would make my work environment ideal.

OBT:

If you had to choose three books as a “Welcome to Canada” gift, what would those books be?

LG:

If choosing children’s books, my three would be Janet Lunn’s Story of Canada, Roch Carrier’s The Hockey Sweater and (humbly speaking) my own In Flanders Fields: The Story of the Poem by John McCrae. The three books give an historical, social, and cultural picture of a new Canadian’s adopted land.

JW:

Island, Alistair MacLeod
Who Has Seen the Wind, W.O. Mitchell, illustrated by William Kurelek
Who Do You Think You Are or any book by Alice Munro
(This was very cruel to narrow it down to 3!!)

OBT:

What are you reading right now?

LG:

I’m re-reading Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (not read since my high school days) and Barrack Obama’s Dreams from My Father.

JW:

Wanderings of an Artist Among the Indians of North America from Canada to Vancouver’s Island and Oregon Through the Hudson’s Bay Company’s Territory and Back Again (Really! That’s the title.) by Paul Kane. It was in the discarded bin at our local Rockwood library. I’m fascinated by details of life in the wilderness of Canada in the first half of the 19century and that of First Nations people. At the same time I’m reading a book by a visitor to Eden Mills, Barbara Kingscote, who is writing another book. Ride the Rising Wind: One Woman’s Journey Across Canada is about her travels in 1949, depending on the kindness of strangers and her horse Zazy. I just finished In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan — excellent information.

OBT:

What advice do you have for authors and illustrators who are trying to get published?

LG:

Well-research the publishers you are considering submitting a manuscript to, otherwise you’re wasting your and their time and energy. And don’t give up — if you believe in your work keep sending it out until you find your writer/publisher “match.”

JW:

The work that you submit to publishers must be as good as or better than the best titles on their list. Publishers are looking for projects that are relevant to the times and are new and different. I always recommend that the work is professionally edited or art-directed before it is submitted.

OBT:

What is your next project?

LG:

I’ve been part-time working for ten years on a biography (for adults) about John G. Magee, a hero of Nanking, China in 1937. Now, it’s full steam ahead for this project.

JW:

A non-fiction book that I’m writing as well as illustrating – One Earth: True Stories of Young Activists, a sequel to One Peace: True Stories of Young Activists.




Linda Granfield is the award-winning author of nearly thirty nonfiction titles for young readers. Known for her meticulous research, as well as her fine writing, Granfield’s books include In Flanders Fields: the Story of the Poem by John McCrae and High Flight: A Story of World War II. Linda Granfield grew up in Boston and now makes her home in Toronto. For more information about Linda Granfield visit www.lindagranfield.com.
Janet Wilson is a graduate of the Ontario College of Art. Her illustrations have appeared in numerous magazines and picture books, including In Flanders Fields: The Story of the Poem by John McCrae, which won the inaugural Red Cedar Award for Nonfiction and the Municipal Chapter I.O.D.E. Award for Children’s Books. She lives in Eden Mills, Ontario. For more information about Janet Wilson, visit www.janetwilson.ca.

For more information about Out of Slavery please visit the Tundra Books website at www.tundrabooks.com.


Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

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